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Foreign policy tilt

Print edition : Mar 09, 2007 T+T-

A well-documented critique of India's foreign policy and a southern perspective on the crisis of the American empire.

INDIA'S foreign policy has veered sharply towards the United States in recent years. The tilt is as pronounced as it once was towards the Soviet Union. Advocates of the pro-Soviet tilt of old are as loud in their advocacy of the pro-U.S. tilt.

India's foreign policy has always been rooted in realpolitik. Jawaharlal Nehru's first love was the U.S. He pressed his suit with greater ardour than discretion and was angry at the predictable rebuff.

Signs of the beginnings of the pro-America tilt surfaced after the Indira Gandhi-Ronald Reagan summit at Cancun in 1981 and picked speed under Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. It was left to the Bharatiya Janata Party regime of A.B. Vajpayee to grovel before the U.S. Imagine what our country's reputation would have been now had it not been stopped in 2003 from sending troops to Iraq? The United Progressive Alliance government's vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 reflected this tilt.

No better documented critique of the new trend has appeared than Under the Empire: India's New Foreign Policy. Ninan Koshy served as Director, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches at Geneva for a decade and was visiting Fellow Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. Over the years he has written meticulously documented articles on international affairs.

His thesis is that India has deviated from its principles. He argues: "India's effort to pursue an independent foreign policy was one of the highlights of post-1947 politics. A product of its long history and recent past, the policy was moulded by a great deal of consistency and continuity. Despite revolutionary changes in the international situation, the broad parameters which were evolved during the freedom struggle and in the early years of independence still retain their vitality." This is an exaggeration. However, the case is argued ably. The last two chapters sum up his views. They are "America's Vassal?" and "For an Independent Foreign Policy".

Koshy's critique tends to be unilinear and unnuanced. His expectations are unrealistic. "What is needed is a world community opposed to empire, any empire, and based on the precepts of evolving international law, human rights and the common principles of universal morality that are emerging." Countries act not as missionaries but as promoters of the national interest. He neglects two factors - the cold war with Pakistan, which shaped foreign policy, and the passion for great power status shared by all, be it status acquired as a gift from others.

Particularly interesting in Koshy's book is the chapter on the American Empire. Walden Bello, Director of Focus on the Global South at Bangkok and a campaigner for international justice and development, has written a southern perspective on the crisis of that empire, its imperial overstretch and hubris and the problems that beset it. His emphasis is on the economic stranglehold that the U.S. has come to acquire over nations while it is in a none too strong a position economically by itself. Will the contradictions catch up with it? "U.S. democracy... has long ceased to be a model for the rest of the world." The question is how should countries like India resist U.S. power, given the fragmented state of the world today? It cannot be said too often - resolution of disputes with neighbours alone can impart leverage and help us acquire the greatness we legitimately covet.